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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Album Review: Turisas - The Varangian Way (Director’s Cut)

With a tour of the UK just kicked off, it’s time to don furs and war-paint and join us in celebrating the thrilling battle metal of Turisas. If you’ve never been to one of their gigs before you’re in for one hell of a surprise! When asked to describe how their style of rousing folk-flecked music came about their lead singer, Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygård, responded with “This comes from deep inside. We play around with history, there’s fantasy imagery there, but I hate fantasy metal with all those dragons or whatever. There’s no substance there. We actually believe in what we’re doing”.

Their latest album is a fine example of what he‘s talking about. ‘The Varangian Way’ tells the tale of a group of 11th century Vikings, or Varangians, and their journey through the Baltic on a quest for glory. It’s literally bubbling with orchestral instrumentation amidst a thunderous momentum that propels you through the tracks. ‘To Holmgard And Beyond’ is the rousing lead track and it has a blinding battle-cry to which few can resist. Then there‘s ‘Fields of Gold’, bright and sparkling, with striking lyrics like “Is a draw the only win? Would a tie double the loss?” It bristles with a steady rhythmic underscore, pulsating drums, sweeping keys and brutish vocals. Which brings you to the utter joy that is ‘In The Court Of Jarisleif’ with a mesmeric accordion that simply dances over a sequence of tub-thumping.

The whole album is a pure celebration. It’s uplifting and, actually, quite oddly amusing. I defy anyone who hears this album for the first time not to smile. What it does best of all, though, is provide something different to the trend of machismo that runs through heavy music and, therefore, something thought-provoking. With a talent for writing such theatrical pieces you could easily imagine Nygård to move to composing soundtracks or directing movie musical scores. Who knows, this album itself may even end up in the West End! In a way, it truly is a work of art, a symbol of what can be achieved with a little imagination - and Nygård certainly isn’t lacking in that department. “Okay, people think this is crazy but there’s a reason it works. There are so many interesting, inspiring old stories that are still connected to our reality. These aren’t just meaningless lyrics, we’re telling a tale here”. And he’s right; this really is the most fun you can have while learning history.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Album Review: Porcupine Tree - Nil Recurring

Out of the ashes of last year’s recording sessions for their latest opus, ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’, rises a new mini-album, ‘Nil Recurring’, a self-contained work in its own right totalling just shy of a half-hour. Regarded as one of the most impressive experimental prog-rock band ever to emerge from the UK, Porcupine Tree have enjoyed a successful recording career spanning fifteen years but there is still a worry that this new offering may just be last year’s cast-off tracks. This fear is quickly allayed by the monumental title-track with its bouncing bass funk rhythm with guest axeman Robert Fripp giving us a chugging, cutting guitar which opens out into full roaring overdrive. Shorn of vocals the track makes a feature of the groove where notes are cleverly selected, lovingly toyed with, and then scattered like confetti.

The band create slowly shifting patterns and are often eager to link tracks together allowing the whole menagerie of songs to segue slowly and organically along. ‘Normal’ follows this pattern with its matching riff but becomes something more melodic, soft and sweeping. There’s an almost poppy feel with simple drum/bass patterns and catchy lyrics but the guitars break out with contrasting bright electrics falling out to reveal subtle, gently repeating acoustics. The last two tracks provide a similarly accessible sound; ‘Cheating The Polygraph’ has big, busty drums and wailing lead riffs through psychedelic pedal effects, whilst ‘What Happens Now?’ has Ben Coleman stepping in on acoustic violin, and sweeping keyboard parts, finishing in a reversed, yelping series of feedback. The lyrics have a tendency to enter very dark and disturbing places - ‘I could be boarding an aircraft with a bomb concealed in somebody’s briefcase’ - but this trend belies the overall uplifting feel of yet another accomplished and ornately carved piece of Porcupine Tree craftsmanship.

Also online @ Subba-Cultcha = http://www.subba-cultcha.com/album-reviews/article.php?contentID=5005

Album Review: The Cast Pattern - The Cast Pattern

Chris Hess, explaining about the Kansas quintet’s moniker, said ‘When the band was named it had no real significance. However, then we saw on C.S.I. that a cast pattern is the direction of blood on a wall after someone is shot’. Listening to what they’ve got on offer here their name fits them perfectly. They play savage, splattering hardcore and combine it with stabbing, groove-laden technical metal. ‘We like technical and chaotic bands but after awhile your brain is spending more time figuring what is going on than enjoying the sound, so we aim to have parts that you can lock into without being simple’, says Hess
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‘Die With Your Boots On’ features scrambling guitars which jar sharply against the drum breakdowns and growling, corrosive vocal. The stick-work of Spencer Bates is exemplary with a feisty snare attack, cracking rim-shots, pummelling double-kicks and battering sequences of cymbal crashes. ‘Infant Stomper’ is a chaos of cascading venom with a middle-section of stop-start attack that takes it to another level of violence. The album ends on ‘Shut Your Homeless Mouth’ and is clearly split into two halves. ‘It’s about working a crappy day job and having to work with people who you would never socialise with otherwise‘, explains Hess. The first-half of the track features the vocal talent of The Red Chord front-man, Guy Kozowyk, with his abrasive, stylized vocal mash-up. It’s a torrent of abuse that forms a punishing opening assault. The second-half is a long sequence of melodic guitars and surprisingly simplistic drums which serves to release the music from its strict pattern of hardcore breakdowns.

It’s an impressive debut and the final track shows they have more tricks up their sleeves to follow in the future. The Cast Pattern are currently touring and I have no doubt that the mosh-pits will boil over in whichever venue they choose to leave their bloody mark across.

Also online @ Subba-Culcha = http://www.subba-cultcha.com/album-reviews/article.php?contentID=5305